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Jackson has spent the better part of his career proving he's a baseball player, not just an athlete playing baseball. He had a full ride to play basketball at Georgia Tech when he came out of Ryan High in Denton, Texas, in 2005. The Yankees swayed him to baseball with an $800,000 bonus, an eighth-round record at the time (broken a year later by New York's Dellin Betances). Jackson had halting progress early, striking out too often and seeming a half-step behind in his first full season at low Class A Charleston in 2006. A year later, he broke out at midseason while repeating the level and finished the year with an impressive turn in the Double-A Eastern League playoffs. He returned to Trenton this season and was the Thunder's best player as it repeated as EL champion. Jackson is a premium athlete who can do a little of everything on the diamond. One EL manager used a football term, calling him a "playmaker." The Yankees' most advanced batting prospect, he's a rhythm hitter who thrives when he's in a groove. He had three hitting streaks of at least 10 games in 2008. He has the bat speed to catch up to the best fastballs, as he showed by crushing a key homer off Clay Buchholz in the EL playoffs, and league managers praised his situational hitting. While Jackson's power comes mostly to the gaps now, scouts and managers agree he'll have average power as he continues to gain experience and strength. He's a smart baserunner with maybe a tick above average speed, though he's not likely to be a big basestealer in the majors. Defensively, Jackson can glide to balls in the gaps with plus range and has a strong, accurate arm that could allow him to move to right field. His strong personality and leadership skills make him a good fit in the clubhouse and for New York. Reports on Jackson's running ability are mixed. Some scouts say his big hack in the batter's box leads to below-average times from home to first. He may slow down as he matures physically and have to move to an outfield corner, which would be a problem if his power fails to develop. He employs a leg kick and when his timing is off, the rest of his swing falters, leaving him late on good fastballs. Jackson's greatest weakness may be what he's not: a classic Yankees center fielder. He's no DiMaggio or Mantle, or even Bernie Williams. Jackson lacks a standout tool but earns future grades of solid-average to plus across the board. His all-around ability fits the profile of a center fielder on a championship team, similar to Williams but with less power and better defense. Melky Cabrera's regression and Brett Gardner's lack of power make Jackson New York's best bet for an in-house center fielder, and he began his campaign for the job with a strong stint in the Arizona Fall League. A robust start, either in spring training or at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, could propel Jackson past Cabrera and Gardner for the starting job in New York in 2009.
Two years after signing for $1.65 million, Montero broke out, finishing second in the low Class A South Atlantic League in batting (.326) and total bases (258) while leading the league in hits (171). He was an SAL all-star and played at Yankee Stadium in the Futures Game, with his parents flying up from Venezuela to watch him. One club official said Montero has the system's best bat since Derek Jeter, only with much more power. Montero has tremendous strength and generates well-above-average bat speed. He has excellent hands and a feel for hitting balls squarely, and isn't afraid to use the whole field. He also has above-average arm strength and has made significant strides defensively. Offensively, Montero is learning to balance patience with aggressiveness. Defensively, he's so big and inflexible that he has trouble receiving balls down and to his right. His arm strength plays down because he has a slow transfer, and he threw out just 25 percent of basestealers in 2008. Montero has the bat and athleticism to profile as a first baseman or perhaps even a left fielder, but the Yankees see him as another Mike Piazza if he can remain behind the plate. He'll start 2009 at high Class A as a 19-year-old and could jump on an even faster track.
Brackman was a two-sport athlete at North Carolina State for two seasons but dropped basketball to concentrate on baseball as a junior. His 2007 season ended with elbow trouble in May, but the Yankees drafted him in the first round anyway. He had Tommy John surgery shortly after signing a guaranteed $4.55 million major league contract that could pay out as much as $13 million with incentives. Despite not having pitched in a competitive game since May 2007, Brackman opened the 2008 Hawaii Winter Baseball season with a 97 mph fastball. When he's right mechanically, he has two plus pitches--a 91-97 mph heater that has reached 100 in the past and a curveball. He throws two variations of his breaking ball, a conventional curve and a knuckle-curve. His athletic ability separates him from other tall pitchers in terms of aptitude and the ability to repeat his delivery. Brackman remains raw for his age, which wasn't helped by Tommy John surgery or an appendectomy that cost him any chance to pitch in the 2008 regular season. His mechanics can get out of sync easily. He's also just learning a changeup. Brackman has rust to shake off and hasn't really dominated since the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2006. Still, he has more upside than any Yankees farmhand and looks primed to break out when he makes his official pro debut in high Class A.
Romine's older brother Andrew, a shortstop in the Angels system, led the Midwest League in steals in 2008, and their father Kevin played seven seasons with the Red Sox as an outfielder. Austin reported to big league camp in spring training, then missed a month with a groin injury before finishing strong in his first full pro season. He hit .359 with four of his 10 home runs in August. Romine combines athletic ability and baseball savvy with impressive raw power and improved hitting ability. He makes consistent hard contact with a simple swing he repeats regularly and projects to hit 20-25 homers annually if it all comes together. As a catcher, he has plus arm strength and made huge strides handling pitchers and calling games. Footwork issues keep Romine from receiving as efficiently as he should or from making quick transfers, and he threw out just 20 percent of basestealers in 2008 despite his arm strength. He was too deferential early in the season but learned how and when to assert himself with teammates. Jesus Montero's bat puts him on a faster track, but Romine looks like the Yankees' catcher of the future. He's expected to move to high Class A, where he'll share catching duties with Montero. Romine should be ready for New York by 2011, the final year of Jorge Posada's contract.
A $1 million bonus, a record for the eighth round, prompted Betances to spurn Vanderbilt and sign out of high school. He logged just 25 innings in 2007 because he was raw and came down with forearm tightness, but in 2008 he led South Atlantic League starters by averaging 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Betances has two plus pitches when he's at his best. His four-seam fastball sits at 94 mph and touches 97, and he uses his height to throw it on a steep downhill plane. His curveball can be a well-above-average hammer. He has improved markedly at quickening his feet, holding runners and fielding his position. Lacking Andrew Brackman's athleticism, Betances loses balance in his delivery and tends to fly open, costing him command and leaving him injury-prone. He missed much of June with a tired shoulder. The Yankees want to smooth out his mechanics before introducing a two-seam sinker to his repertoire, and his changeup remains in its nascent stages. He needs to keep improving his fielding and ability to hold runners. Though he has yet to prove he can stay healthy, Betances has front-of-the-rotation potential. New York would like him to reach 150-160 innings in high Class A in 2009, which would put him on course to pitch in his hometown at some point in 2011.
The Yankees spent two years remaking McAllister, raising his arm slot and having him work with a curveball instead of his natural slider. After struggling with the changes at short-season Staten Island in 2007, McAllister regained his slider in a fall 2007 trip to New York's Dominican Republic instructional league camp. He broke out in 2008, ranking seventh in the minors with a 2.08 ERA, and didn't allow a run in five of his last six outings. Now employing a traditional three-quarters delivery, McAllister works with a 93- 94 mph four-seam fastball with modest tail and an 89-91 mph two-seamer with nasty sink and armside run. Command of both pitches stems from his sound mechanics. His slider and changeup are solid offerings that he throws for strikes. A groundball pitcher, McAllister lacks a true strikeout pitch. His command of his secondary stuff is far less consistent than his command of his fastball. He sometimes leaves flat four-seamers up in the strike zone. McAllister has the body, mechanics and repertoire to be a mid-rotation workhorse. After making terrific progress in 2008, he figures to spend most of 2009 in Double-A.
Aceves signed with the Blue Jays in 2001, and they sold his contract to Yucatan of the Mexican League the following April. He pitched six seasons in his native country, posting a 36-24, 4.01 record before Yankees scout Lee Sigman recommended and signed him for $450,000 in January 2008. He rose three levels to the majors in his first season in the United States. Aceves throws a variety of average pitches, starting with an 89-91 mph fastball, a curveball and a slider. His changeup creeps into plus territory and rates as the best in the system. He also attacks lefthanded hitters with a split-finger fastball and cutter. He avoids pitch patterns, stays around the plate and misses down when he misses at all. None of Aceves' pitches grades as plus, limiting his ceiling, and he lacks any future projection. He doesn't have one pitch he can go to for a strikeout and needs a quality defense behind him. Aceves resembles Yankees 2006 first-rounder Ian Kennedy but features more command, pitchability and experience. He has a leg up on Kennedy and Phil Hughes for a rotation spot in New York in 2009.
Coke failed to rise above high Class A in his first five seasons. He embraced the organization's offseason conditioning program, lost 18 pounds and improved his stuff across the board in 2008. He pitched well as a starter and shined as a reliever, including in September during his first big league callup. As a starter, Coke threw three pitches for strikes, including an 88-92 mph fastball. His slider found the zone much more than his curveball ever had, and his changeup was average. Out of the bullpen, Coke was a different animal. He ran his fastball up to 96 mph and his slider showed signs of becoming a plus pitch with improved tilt. At age 26, Coke most likely is a finished product. His slider remains inconsistent, and as a result, he's often less effective against lefthanded hitters than against righthanded hitters. Coke has earned a spot in the Yankees' plans, probably as a reliever in the short term. He's better in that role anyway, and New York's spending spree in the rotation points him in that direction.
The Yankees drafted Melancon despite an elbow strain that short-circuited his 2006 college season, and signed him for $600,000. He promptly reinjured his elbow and required Tommy John surgery. After pitching just seven pro innings entering 2008, he stayed healthy and helped Scranton win the Triple-A International League. Roundly praised for his makeup and work ethic, Melancon responded well to his surgery and rehabilitation, regaining most of his power stuff. His fastball sits at 91-94 mph and touches 95, and he can throw his power curveball for strikes or bury it as a chase pitch. He added a changeup that helped him limit lefties to a .162 average in 2008. Melancon still has just 103 pro innings to his credit and is seeking more consistency with his curveball. He must continue to smooth out his delivery, which had so much effort that it led to his injury. He doesn't hold runners well. The best in-house candidate to eventually replace Mariano Rivera as the Yankees' closer, Melancon has the temperament to handle the role and his stuff is nearly closer-worthy as well. He'll compete for a set-up role in New York in 2009.
One of the better pure hitters in the 2007 draft, Suttle batted .359/.450/.603 as a draft-eligible sophomore at Texas. After the Yankees signed him for $1.3 million, he looked lost in Hawaii Winter Baseball that fall, striking out 30 times in 85 at-bats. Undaunted, he made several adjustments at the plate in 2008 and had a successful pro debut despite two stints on the disabled list with hip problems. Suttle has a feel for hitting from both sides of the plate and confidence that leads to excellent strike-zone awareness. He has the strength and enough bat speed to maximize his discipline. After showing an inability to make consistent contact in Hawaii, he was shorter to the ball in 2008. He also improved significantly on defense, showing better range to both sides and coming in on slow rollers. He has good arm strength. Suttle's power may not fit the third-base profile, as his swing from both sides is geared more toward line drives. The Yankees would like him to be more aggressive to exploit pitches he can drive. He's fairly slow and has modest athleticism. Reversing a poor start has Suttle back on track, but with Alex Rodriguez signed through 2017, he's in no rush. He'll start next season in high Class A and could push Rodriguez to a different position in 2011.
Bleich was part of a loaded 2005 Louisana prep class that included fellow lefthanders Beau Jones and Sean West, who were supplemental first-round picks that year, and Wade Miley, who like Bleich was a supplemental first-rounder in 2008 after three years of college. Bleich went to Stanford and worked primarily as a closer as a freshman before settling into the rotation. He helped lead the Cardinal back to the College World Series in 2008 despite missing nearly two months with what was termed an elbow strain. The Yankees took him 44th overall and signed him late in the summer for a below-slot $700,000, owing to concerns over his elbow. He wound up as their top signee when they failed to sign first-rounder Gerrit Cole. Bleich made two appearances at Staten Island (one in the playoffs) before shining in Hawaii Winter Baseball. He has good control of an 88-91 mph fastball that touches 92, and his curveball grades as above-average. He has a solid-average changeup that has flashed plus potential, particularly in college, but lacks the movement to grade that high for now. Bleich's durability is somewhat of a question, and other clubs wondered whether he'd need Tommy John surgery in the near future. If healthy, his ability to pitch off his fastball, throwing it for strikes to all quadrants, and his quality secondary stuff should allow him to move quickly. He's expected to start 2009 in high Class A.
The Yankees considered Heredia the top pitcher in their 2006 international signing class, signing him for $350,000, and he has continued to validate their confidence. He missed a month early in 2008 with biceps tendinitis but he came back to pitch well in low Class A as an 18-year-old. Heredia's future depends on one huge factor--fastball development. While his fastball touches 93 mph, he generally sits at 87-89 mph with his four-seamer and hasn't picked up a two-seamer yet. His fastball has decent sink and armside run, but in terms of velocity and command, it's a below-average pitch. Heredia's secondary stuff and feel for his craft are advanced for his age, including an above-average power breaking ball that reaches 83 mph and is his best pitch. The Yankees call it a curve, while scouts outside the organization call it a slider. He made significant progress with a changeup last season that has splitter action. Heredia has a thin, wiry frame and wide shoulders. He averaged fewer than five innings per start and will need time to develop strength and stamina, not to mention his fastball. If he fills out and develops consistent low-90s heat, he'll be a mid-rotation starter. Otherwise, he'll be another back-of-the-rotation starter who has to pitch backwards to survive. Heredia could return to low Class A to start 2009 but is ready to tackle high Class A as a teenager.
Gardner ranked in the Top 10 on this list the previous two seasons and made his big league debut on June 30, going back to the minors in late July before returning for good in mid-August. He got regular playing time in September in an audition to replace Melky Cabrera. Gardner was true to himself in the big leagues, displaying his plus-plus speed but also his usual lack of power and propensity to strike out. He's an excellent baserunner with a unique combination of speed and acceleration. He was caught stealing only once in 14 tries in the majors, when he was picked off by Mark Buehrle, and he also has above-average range in center field, though his arm is below-average. Gardner's power is well-below-average, and pitchers at higher levels have challenged him more, jamming him and keeping him from getting his arms extended. However, Gardner made some adjustments late, hitting safely in his final six big league games. He was too passive in his first major league exposure and has to strike a balance between aggressively looking for pitches to drive and drawing walks to get on base and use his speed. The consensus inside the organization and out sees Gardner as a second-division regular or fourth outfielder. In the best-case scenario, Gardner has a Juan Pierre-type of career with more walks. At worst, he's another Jason Tyner. Depending on what New York does this offseason, Gardner could get a chance to wrest the everyday job from Cabrera in the spring.
The Yankees got a big leaguer out of Mexico in 2008 in Alfredo Aceves, and they also got Banuelos. They're convinced that he has as much potential as any of their young pitchers, and value him for his poise, mound presence and stuff. His arm works well, and despite his modest stature, he already shows an average fastball, at times sitting at 90-92 mph. He doesn't overthrow, using a smooth delivery to produce easy velocity and consistently throw strikes. Banuelos shows an impressive feel for changing speeds on his fastball and has the hand speed to spin a breaking ball, though his curveball needs work. His changeup is in its nascent stages. The Yankees want Banuelos to focus on commanding his four-seamer and curve, and he's expected to do so next season in low Class A. Farm director Mark Newman said he "looks like Whitey Ford out there" in terms of his demeanor and poise, as good an indication as any that Banuelos is on the fast track.
Robertson and his older brother Connor, traded this offseason to the Mets, both have reached the major leagues. David reached New York in just his second pro season after signing following a strong summer in the Cape Cod League in 2006. The Yankees have pushed him and he has responded at every turn, vaulting past higher-drafted relievers such as J. Brent Cox and Mark Melancon. Robertson began 2008 in Double-A and finished it in New York, where he wore down in the second half and surrendered his first homer as a pro July 28, a grand slam by Adam Jones. He gets good sink on his 90-92 mph fastball despite his smallish frame and pitches aggressively with his heater. That sets up his power curveball, a plus pitch he has used to help rack up 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings as a pro. He's working on a changeup to combat lefthanders. Robertson nibbled a bit in the majors and elevated his fastball when he tried to muscle up and do too much. He should be able to hold onto his spot in New York's bullpen this season.
The Yankees' continuing search for homegrown lefthanders has led them to Phil Coke and Jeremy Bleich, while two of their stronger-armed lefties, converted outfielders Dunn and Wilkins de la Rossa, have moved to the bullpen. Dunn is further along and has shown more fastball velocity than De La Rossa, moving him onto the 40-man roster and close to a big league shot. Dunn finished the 2008 season on the upswing, turning in his best month in August and pitching well in the Eastern League playoffs. A two-way player at the CC of Southern Nevada, he moved full-time to the mound in 2006 and to the bullpen at the end of 2008 after nearing his innings limit as a starter. Dunn, who sat at 88-92 mph with his fastball as a starter, jumped to 94-96 in short relief bursts. He also pitched more aggressively, finishing hitters off with his heater or low- to mid-80s slider. While his slider doesn't have two-plane break, it was effective as a power breaking ball. Dunn still fights his command and will have to throw more strikes, particularly on the inner half to righthanders, to be more than a middle reliever. He figures to return to Double-A to start 2009.
Garcia ranked as high as No. 5 on this list three years ago, before injuries of increasing severity started taking their toll. It began with an elbow strain in 2005 and an oblique strain in 2006. He missed all of 2007, first while recovering from Tommy John surgery and then with a knee problem that required reconstructive surgery as well. Last season, he came down with bursitis in his shoulder during spring training, and then elbow soreness flared up after he made five starts at midsummer. Primarily a catcher in high school until his senior season, Garcia needs the development time. He has long had a premium curveball and the pitch still has the same 12-to-6 break it had prior to his elbow surgery, though it hasn't quite regained its power. His fastball also has lost some velocity, now touching 92 mph rather than 96 and sitting at 90-91. He's still rebuilding his arm speed and it's likely he'll regain some velocity in the future if he can stay healthy. In the absence of his power, Garcia has added a changeup that has made surprising progress, and some in the organization consider it a plus pitch and the system's best. After pitching in the Eastern League playoffs, he was shut down for the winter and now must prove he can hold up over a full season. He has been added to the 40-man roster and will try to prove he can make a full complement of starts in 2009, likely starting in the warm weather of Tampa.
Signed for $800,000 in 2007 out of the Dominican Republic, Vizcaino and 2008 draftee Brett Marshall have the biggest arms among New York's young pitching prospects. Vizcaino was a 6-foot, 189-pounder when he signed and he's already "stretching out," in the words of Yankees pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras. He's close to 6-foot-2 now, and has retained his electric arm speed while adding velocity. Vizcaino sits in the low 90s while touching 95 with his fastball. He also has plenty of hand speed and shows a plus curveball at times, with late break and downer action. The rest of Vizcaino's repertoire still is filling out, with a changeup and two-seam fastball on the horizon. He has a better arm than Manny Banuelos but lacks the command and polish to join him on the fast track at this time. Vizcaino is still quite raw in terms of holding runners, fielding his position and other nuances of the game. He's likely to start 2009 in extended spring training before heading to Staten Island, though if he has a strong spring, he could begin the year in Charleston with Banuelos.
The Yankees considered De La Rossa a potential pitcher soon after signing him in November 2001, but his athletic ability convinced them to try him as an outfielder for five seasons. He finally moved to the mound in fall 2006 after hitting .224 with just three homers in 920 at-bats. He has moved rapidly as a pitcher, finishing 2008 in high Class A and earning a spot on the 40-man roster. De La Rossa projects as a reliever because he lacks a real feel for pitching, but he got needed innings and experience last year and showed a quick, power arm. He grasped his delivery quickly and started throwing strikes with his fastball early in his conversion, and his heater often sits at 93-94 mph. When he needs more velocity, he has shown the ability to reach back and get it. While the Yankees prefer curveballs, De La Rossa's lower arm slot is more suited to sliders, and he also throws a changeup that grades as average. When his slider is on, he's extremely hard to hit. De La Rossa figures to go back to high Class A as a starter to work on throwing more quality strikes.
Miranda seemed poised for a breakout season in 2008, his second year after signing for a four-year, $4 million contract. After helping Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to the International League championship--he led the IL with 11 RBIs during the playoffs--he finished the year in the majors and got his first big league hit off A.J. Burnett. But even with Jason Giambi's contract mercifully over, the Yankees aren't handing first base over to Miranda quite yet. He spent two years in limbo after leaving Cuba before becoming a free agent and showed up two years younger than he'd been listed when he played for the Cuban national team. Cuban sources list a 1981 birthdate for Miranda, who will be 28 in 2009 if they're correct. Miranda showed good power potential in the Arizona Fall League in 2007 but didn't carry that over into 2008. While club officials still project him to hit for big home run power in the majors--he puts on raw power displays in batting practice--he has put up modest numbers in the minors and other teams aren't as impressed. He injured his left shoulder in late May trying to field a groundball and wound up missing almost a month. He regained his loose swing swiftly, showing a quick, contact-oriented stroke. Despite that swing, Miranda was helpless against lefthanders, posting a .537 OPS against them in Triple- A (compared to a .973 OPS against righties). He's an average defender at first base, with fair range and decent actions, and a below-average runner. After another fine AFL performance, he's ready for a platoon role in the majors but doesn't project as a championship-caliber regular.
Jorge Posada is signed through 2011, and the Yankees' best future options at catcher, Jesus Montero and Austin Romine, spent last season in low Class A. Cervelli has advanced further and is far more polished defensively than either, but he lacks their offensive ceiling. He also lost crucial development time in 2008 when he broke his right wrist in a celebrated home-plate collision with Elliot Johnson during spring training, one that led to a brawl between the Yankees and Rays. Cervelli didn't play until mid-June, and after three games, he went down again with a strained left knee. Cervelli was Trenton's everyday catcher in August and performed well as the team won the Eastern League championship, then got a September callup. Cervelli lacks the bat speed and strength to produce more than below-average power, and while he has shown good plate discipline in the minors, he'll have to earn the respect of pitchers at higher levels. Most scouts expect his bat to be short of a big league regular. His defense is first-rate, however, with a plus arm and above-average receiving and blocking skills. Like most catchers, he's a below-average runner. Set to open 2009 in Double-A, Cervelli will have to pick it up offensively if he wants to establish himself in New York before Montero and Romine arrive.
With first-rounder Gerrit Cole failing to sign and supplemental first-rounder Jeremy Bleich accepting below-slot money, Marshall wound up getting the top bonus of any Yankees draftee in 2008, $850,000 as a sixth-rounder. That's the lowest total for New York's best-paid draftee since 2002, when it didn't have a first-rounder. Marshall rated as the second-best prep righthander in a down year in Texas, and like Carmen Angelini, who got $1 million from the Yankees in 2007, Marshall had committed to Rice. He's a smaller righthander with some effort in his delivery, but pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras considers him one of system's best pitchers in terms of raw arm strength. Marshall touched 96 mph early in the spring to jump up draft boards and topped out at 94 late in the spring and in instructional league. He also has shown the arm speed for a good breaking ball. In high school, he threw a power slider in the mid-80s, but the Yankees tried to get him to use a curveball instead during instructional league. They also introduced him to a changeup. The Charleston rotation looks crowded for 2009, so Marshall likely will open the year in extended spring training.
Kontos had his most consistent, dependable season as a pro in 2008. He never missed a turn for Trenton, leading the Eastern League champions in innings (152) and ranking third in the EL in strikeouts (152). Kontos never has had a fully dominant season, going 11-19 in three years at Northwestern and 17-20 in three as a pro. He made progress nonetheless in 2008, despite working with less fastball than in the past. Kontos pitched at 88-90 mph, down from 90-93 previously. Kontos' mechanics don't allow him to be consistent, either in terms of velocity or control, as he tends to leak out with his front shoulder and drag his arm. His secondary stuff has improved over his pro career, with his slightly above-average slider remaining his best pitch. He has improved confidence in his changeup, though it's still below-average, and throws a solid-average curveball as well. His effectiveness against righthanders (.602 OPS in 2008), thanks mostly to his slider, should make him an effective reliever, and his four-pitch mix still marks him as at worst a swingman. He's headed to Triple-A for 2009.
Mitchell began his career at Clemson as a speedy outfielder, hitting .289 as a freshman without appearing on the mound. He started pitching as a sophomore and put his bat away for good after a star turn in the Cape Cod League in the summer of 2007. However, Clemson and Mitchell never clicked in 2008, with the team missing regionals for the first time in 22 years and Mitchell falling to the 10th round of the draft. He did sign for $450,000, the equivalent of a third-round bonus. His small stature makes him somewhat unusual for a Yankees big-money draftee, but his athleticism and arm speed were too much to pass up. Mitchell still needs to learn some nuances of pitching and could struggle initially in pro ball, but his potential is obvious. He can touch 93 mph with his fastball, which sits at 89-91 with natural sink and tailing action. He has the hand speed to produce a solid curveball, though he's new to the pitch after throwing a slider in college. He has made progress with a changeup, a potential plus pitch that could be the key to keeping him a starter long-term. His athleticism, makeup and aptitude are huge assets, while his inexperience is his biggest obstacle. Mitchell will compete for a rotation spot in low Class A but could open 2009 in extended spring training.
Horne was left off the Yankees' 40-man roster after a trying season that resulted in August surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff. He began throwing again in early December and was expected to be ready for spring training. A healthy Horne would be a boost for the Yankees, whose upper-level starting pitching has thinned with graduations to the majors and attrition. Horne has been on the radar a long time, first coming to national prominence in 2001, when the Indians made him a first-round pick. His college career included three schools--Mississippi, Chipola (Fla.) JC and Florida--one Tommy John surgery and a trip to the 2005 College World Series. He seemed on the cusp of the majors after leading the Eastern League in ERA (3.11) and strikeouts (165 in 153 innings) in 2007, but he left his second start of 2008 with biceps pain. He came back briefly in June before his arm started bothering him again. Horne had shown four plus pitches at times in 2007, including a 92-93 mph fastball that peaked at 95, a power slider, a hard curveball and a surprisingly effective changeup. However, his long arm action in the back of his delivery always has concerned scouts as an injury risk and an obstacle to good command. Now 26, Horne is coming off a lost season and his second major arm surgery as he returns to Triple-A.
Acquired from the Tigers in the Gary Sheffield trade, Claggett has moved past Humberto Sanchez and Kevin Whelan, the other components of the deal who both previously ranked in this Top 10. While Sanchez has had Tommy John surgery and conditioning issues and Whelan has battled injuries and a lack of control, Claggett was added to the 40-man roster this offseason and looks primed to contribute in New York. Though he started for part of 2007, he has had more success in the bullpen. He overcame an early hamstring strain and late shoulder soreness to pitch well in Double-A last season. Claggett's fastball lacks the pure velocity desired of a closer, but he sinks the ball effectively while still sitting at 91-92 mph, and he can reach back for more when he needs to. Better fastball command is essential for him to be more than just a middle reliever. He also needs to pitch inside to set up his calling card--a plus 84-85 mph slider with good depth. He added a changeup when he was starting and it has some fade to it, grading out as average. His starting experience also primed him for longer relief outings, and just five of his 30 outings in 2008 went for one inning or less. He returned from his shoulder problem to pitch effectively in the Eastern League playoffs and should compete for a big league setup job in spring training, though he's more likely to open the season in Triple-A.
The Yankees typically assign their top Latin American prospects--such as Robinson Cano, Jairo Heredia, Jose Tabata, to name a few--to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. DeLeon, however, started his career last year in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League after signing for $1.1 million in 2007. He disclosed in an ESPN. com story that he didn't see his entire bonus, as he had to pay $100,000 to the scouts who signed him, Carlos Rios and Ramon Valdivia. Both scouts were later fired by the Yankees for their role in the Dominican bonus skimming scandal. The Yankees were willing to pay DeLeon a seven-figure bonus because of his raw power. He's exceptionally strong and has a long, powerful swing that helped him hit nine home runs in the DSL, more than a third of his team's total and good for fourth in the league. His game is quite raw, not unexpected for someone who played last season at age 17. His swing can get long and he's prone to strikeouts. The Yankees also didn't think he was ready defensively for the GCL, though he has a strong arm and projects as a right fielder down the line. In other words, despite the $1.1 million bonus, DeLeon is far from a sure thing. He'll make his U.S. debut in 2009, almost certainly in the GCL.
Angelini was part of New York's $8 million draft class in 2007, as the Yankees signed him away from a Rice commitment with a $1 million bonus. It set a record for a 10th-round pick and raised expectations for a player who earned mixed reviews from area scouts in Louisiana, who liked his scrappiness and defensive abilities but had doubts about his bat. Those fears seemed more legitimate in 2008 as Angelini had a miserable offensive season in low Class A, getting off to a slow start and never quite heating up. Scouts like his swing path and he has good plate coverage. Angelini just lacks the strength to produce good bat speed and consistent hard contact at this stage. He has a strong arm and solid infield actions, though at times the speed of the game got the better of him. He should be able to stay at shortstop but also would make a fine second baseman. His speed is slightly above-average. Angelini learned what it takes to be a pro on and off the field and never quit despite the long season and his poor performance. Projecting him as a big leaguer takes a lot of faith in his bat, but the Yankees will be patient. He's expected to repeat low Class A in 2009.
The Yankees added four pitchers to their 40-man roster in the offseason, including Jackson. He's all that's left from the Randy Johnson trade with the Diamondbacks, as the Yankees have dealt off Alberto Gonzalez, Ross Ohlendorf and Luis Vizcaino. Jackson struggled for most of his first two years in the system but finally found a consistent arm slot and started throwing strikes in 2008. He has a low-90s sinker and pounds the bottom of the strike zone. He previously lacked a putaway pitch and was too predictable with his modest slider. With a higher arm angle, he was able to add some tilt to his slider, making it an average pitch. His new slot allows him to elevate his fastball more easily, making his plus splitter more effective. Jackson has a shot at earning a big league job but likely will work with Anthony Claggett at the back of Scranton's 2009 bullpen.
Almonte has tantalized the Yankees with his talent and athleticism, and he continues to add strength to his game. But a second-half swoon in low Class A, where he hit just .191 after the all-star break, has tempered enthusiasm for him. Almonte has added 35 pounds since signing yet remains an athletic, middle-of-the-diamond player. He runs well and has a strong arm, and with time he should become an average or better defender in center field. He's still a bit raw in all phases of the game, especially at the plate. Almonte switch-hits and has a good cut from both sides, giving him potential for both gap power and a speed-based, line-drive game. The key adjustment he must make is better pitch recognition. While he's patient and has a short stroke, he expands his strike zone too easily and swings at pitchers' pitches. Almonte saw a lot of fastballs in the first half of the season and showed the bat speed to catch up--he was a South Atlantic League midseason all-star--then failed to adjust to a steady diet of offspeed stuff in the second half. He also must add polish to bring his plus speed to bear more consistently on the basepaths. Almonte will repeat low Class A to address those issues.
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